Seoul City Faces Massive Online Backlash Over Its “Bare-Minimum Fix” For Skyrocketing Suicide Rates At Han River

A band-aid fix for the deep wound.

Content Warning

This article includes descriptions of suicide or self harm that may disturb some readers.

The rate of suicide by jumping into the Han river has been alarmingly rising in Seoul, but citizens feel that the government is not handling the crisis efficiently.

| The Korea Herald

According to a recent report by the National Fire Agency, the number of firefighters dispatched to handle suicide attempts at the Han river bridges was 1,000 last year, a 40% increase from the previous year. The more accessible bridges, such as Mapo Bridge, Hangang Bridge, and Yanghwa Bridge, were usually the main areas of concern for these cases. But within the last year, even the bridges where average issues were close to none have started showing escalated numbers.

Banpo Bridge and Dongjak Bridge had an average of 30 suicide attempts yearly. But this number doubled with 68 and 64 cases last year, respectively. Cheongdam Bridge, where the average number of dispatches to handle suicide attempts used to be two, saw the number go up to 10 last year. Mapo Bridge, one of the most frequent choices for suicide attempts, saw 255 cases last year. It was the first time the number ever crossed 200.

Mapo Bridge | The Korea Herald

The age demographics of these cases are also bleak. According to the data provided by National Statistical Office, suicide was the leading cause of death among people in the age groups of 10-30 in 2022. The suicide hotline phones placed on the Hangang Bridge recorded 5457 suicide cases where the victims were in their 20s or younger. That is 61% of the total cases last year. The suicide mortality rate in South Korea is recorded at 23.6, which is more than double the average of 11.2 in 38 other OECD countries.

SOS hotline phones are installed on Han river bridges to prevent suicide attempts | Insider

While the number of suicide attempts is growing steadily, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s recent solution has drawn scathing criticism from netizens. To prevent attempts to jump into the river, the Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to raise the height of the railings on Hannam Bridge, Yanghwa Bridge, and Jamsil Bridge, where suicide attempts have increased in the past year. Mapo and Hangang are also a part of this project, though there are already high railings and rotary handrails at Mapo, making it difficult for people to climb up. According to an official from the Metropolitan Government’s office, the city plans to raise the railings from 1.65 to 1.7 meters. Additional preventive facilities would also be installed on these bridges, depending on their specific characteristics.

High fences installed on Mapo bridge | The Korea Times

If the internet’s voice is any indication of the popular consensus, the city’s plan to prevent suicide attempts has not struck any right chords with its people. Many complained that the policies fail to take the real causes of suicide into account and only provide a surface-level cover-up.

One of those causes that might have contributed to the growing disparity in life among the younger generation is the socioeconomic state of South Korea. A new government proposal is currently looking at increasing the maximum work hours for South Koreans from 52 to 69 hours a week, with the option to barter overtime hours for longer time offs. As a demographic that is already considered “overworked,” this policy has raised concerns about the well-being of South Korean workers, who are often the ones to go to the extreme end under pressure.

| theqoo 
| theqoo
  • “Shouldn’t the policies or the laws that create such situations be stopped first? They need to stop pushing those forward and nullify them instead. Where is the priority?”
  • “Next, let’s demolish all buildings higher than five floors.”
  • “If they think about this, they’d also realize people would commit suicide after doing this, LOL. The viciousness is giving me goosebumps.”
  • “One of the joys of living in Seoul was to look at the night view while crossing the Hangang bridge, but now I can’t even see that.”
  • “Why is this post so sad…really this country is so messed up.”
  • “You’re a genius…wow…This is the country I live in…They don’t even want to think why those young people are driven to such extreme choices.”
  • “At this point, they’d fill up the Han river.”
  • “Instead of thinking, ‘Ah, the suicide rates are high. We should address the cause!’ they said, ‘We will make it impossible to commit suicide. That should do it.’ Legendary one-dimensional idea.”
  • “Just get rid of the Han river, LOL. They know what the real cause of this problem is, but they cover it up for their own vested interests.”
  • “Just fill up the Han river.”
  • “While we’re at it, let’s get rid of all windows in tall buildings. We can’t have people jumping out of them!”

But even among the popular dissent, there are some voices who are hoping that these policies bring in positive effects in suicide prevention efforts.

| theqoo
| theqoo
  • “Raising the railings of bridges is actually effective for suicide prevention. Of course, a person determined to commit suicide will eventually do it. But there are many cases of impulsive suicide, where the suicidal idea disappears after 10 minutes. I resent the government, but many foreign countries have adapted this, and there’s enough research data to back it up. In Incheon, when Park Nam Chun was the mayor, this policy showed many positive results, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare received an award for the excellent policy as well.”
  • “The suicide rates might not come down by doing this, but I think it’s a good idea to make them high. Was it a month ago? I was running when I saw a woman hanging from the railing of Sogang Bridge. I had just passed by her, but I mustered up some courage and went back. I asked her, ‘You’re just looking around, right?’ Then she came down, but seeing that she had her bag and shoes taken off next to her scared me ㅠㅠㅠㅠ.”
Source: Herald Corp
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